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Double whammy of criticism for Theresa Villiers

Northern Ireland secretary of state Theresa Villiers joins Conservative 'leave' campaigners on Saturday
Brendan Hughes and Connla Young

SECRETARY of State Theresa Villiers is facing a double whammy of criticism after joining the "extremists" campaigning for a European Union exit.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Ms Villiers should resign from her position if the Northern Ireland electorate vote to remain in the EU.

The most recent poll estimates that the north is the most Euro friendly region of the UK, with 75 percent of people saying they will vote to stay in on June 23.

Three of the five Executive parties - Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance - will campaign to remain in the EU, while the DUP will "recommend" voting for an exit. The Ulster Unionists were still considering their position last night.

Mr Eastwood said Ms Villiers has "chosen to join the extremists and the eccentrics in advocating a vote to leave the European Union."

He said she has used her "ministerial portfolio to lend weight to a campaign whose goals are in direct conflict with the interests of the people of Northern Ireland."

And he added: "By nailing her colours to the mast with such publicity, Theresa Villiers will have little choice but to resign her position should the north vote to remain within the EU."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also called on Ms Villiers to consider her position.

"It is clear that a majority of people in the north place great value on our membership of the European Union and want it to continue," he said.

"It's odd that Theresa Villiers should now be advocating withdrawing from the EU when its benefits for the north are quite obvious.

"It's not surprising, however, given the fact that she is not elected by and does not represent the people of the north that she should be so cut off from public opinion."

Meanwhile, Ms Villiers is facing serious criticism from Northern Ireland's leading criminal lawyer following a speech she made on dealing with the past.

Kevin Winters accused the Secretary of State of trying to "stymie" the work of solicitors representing Troubles victims.

In a highly unusual move, the well known legal figure claimed the British government was "hostile" to the work carried out by lawyers who specialise in legacy cases.

Mr Winters represents the families of around 300 people killed during the Troubles.

"I think the timing of what she said (Ms Villiers) was more than just co-incidental, we see it as a shot across our bows," he said.

"It is on the back of a huge tranche of increased litigation and legal cases and we would say the state would certainly be hostile to the work we do as lawyers.

And he added: "I see it as designed to stymie or somehow undermine the work that we and others do."

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